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Idada: Writing energises me, it is a catalyst, sometimes sedative

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Jude Idada is a Nigerian screenwriter, actor, poet, playwright and producer best known for writing the feature film, The Tenant. He has also produced and written several other short films and books. The University of Ibadan Theatre Arts graduate was selected as one of the screenwriters for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Adapt This! and the Afrinolly/Ford Foundation Cinema4Change projects. Idada was also an inaugural participant in the Relativity Media/AFRIFF Filmmaking project.
Idada has stage plays, collection of short stories and poetry to his credit. His stage plays include, Flood, Brixton Stories, Lost and Coma, 3some. He has also written and published a collection of short stories: A Box of Chocolates and Exotica Celestica. Written and directed Stage plays: Oduduwa – King of the Edos, By My Own Hands and a children’s book, Didi Kanu and the Singing Dwarfs of the North.This year, his Boom Boom won the Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited, for the 2019 cycle on Children’s Literature. The book edged out Mysteries at Ebenezer’s Lodge by Dunni Olatunde and The Great Walls of Benin by O.T. Begho entries in the shortlist of three, to clinch the prize. The book had competed against 173 books submitted for the competition in March 2019. He spoke on the prize and other sundry issues with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR (Arts and Culture Editor).

Congratulations on the NLNG Prize, once again. How has the feeling been that you’re no longer a forever bridesmaid having been longlisted thrice?
Thank you for your felicitations. Well winning after being shortlisted once, longlisted once and honourably mentioned among 18 others once the year there was no winner, is humbling and fulfilling. Firstly, because it creates a foundation upon which I will build, secondly because it sends a message out to everyone in various pursuits that delay is not denial, and if you fail once, you should just keep on trying until you achieve what you have set out to achieve, and thirdly, because it shines the light on sickle cell anaemia and the fight to eradicate it. Suffice to say that I’m happy and reinvigorated to write even more, because to whom much is given, much is expected in return.

What does literary success look like to you, now? From a graduate of Ibadan Drama School to another, how does it feel to know that a strong message is being sent about University of Ibadan Theatre Arts department? You know, from Soji Cole to Jude Idada, the products of that department had back-to-back successes at the NLNG-sponsored Nigeria Prize for Literature?
Literary success is a continuum. Having won this award, it raises the bar. The expectation of the quality of my future works is higher. So I have to even put more into my work. That being said, literary success is also the size of your readership and the noticeability of your name and the titles of your works, so I dare say, with this award, my name will ring a bell and so would the title of my book. Moreso, certain doors, which were not open to me in the past, will be now and that in itself will propel me to achieve more with anything else I write.

I’m exceedingly glad about that. People now know that having the pedigree of University of Ibadan, Theatre Arts Department is a statement of excellence of scholarship and tutelage. This is not just in the present but even in the past, so we are carrying the torch that was passed down to us by the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka, and I believe that with the quality of faculty we have at the department even the students present and in the future, will have something to live up to and even surpass, that is with the bragging rights of saying that – recently two graduates of UI, Theatre Arts, back to back won the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature.

What kind of research did you do on your winning work, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book?
My research was expansive. I read all the literature on Sickle Cell Anaemia that I could find. I spoke in detail with doctors, specialists in the medical care of the warriors of the disease, parents of warriors and the warriors themselves, in addition to people who have lost friends and family to the disease. I spent a little of a month, as I researched even while I was writing.

What did you edit out of your winning book, Boom Boom?
I edited what I didn’t want read, so I am sorry, I can’t share it, if not I would have not edited out of the book.

How did you select names of the characters?
The names of my characters were pulled from family members, friends and associates. The name of Osaik, who is the narrator of the book, is the name of my nephew, and the name Eghosa (Eghe Boom Boom), who is the subject of the book, is the name of my niece.

What was the hardest scene to write in the book?
The hardest was the scene of the death of Osaik and Eghe Boom Boom’s mother.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have a several uncompleted and unpublished works. I write a lot, and I write several things at the same time, this creates a lot of works in progress, works, which I believe, will be completed in due course.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
If I weren’t writing, I would be a clinical psychologist.

Do you read your book reviews?
Yes, I read my book reviews. For me, a review is always meant to help you improve on your work, so the good ones let me know what I am doing well, to keep doing them and the bad reviews also show me the weakness of my work and what I should do to improve them. I never see a book review as a personal attack but a veritable commentary on the work in itself. It is very helpful.

How do you deal with bad or good ones? Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Yes I write secrets in my books. They are footprints. Etchings that I want the reader to stumble upon the predicates what will happen later on the story and something that makes even a rereading of my work, an exciting adventure and a rewarding experience. It is my belief that a work of literature should reveal new things every time it is read again and again.

What is the first book that made you cry?
I can’t remember the first book that made me cry, but one book that I know tore me to the shreds and caused a continuous flow of tears is Mighty Atom by Marie Corelli.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing energizes me. It is a catalyst, a propellant, an elixir and sometimes a sedative.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes I did and still do. Sometimes you want the reader to meet your work without any preconceptions. And then sometimes, you want to be so radical that you believe only a pseudonym guarantees you the anonymity you need to save you from the backlash to come. Maybe I will one day, but for now, I am still relatively unknown and also I am still fearless.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self, to take more courses in fiction writing including more writers’ workshop and the continuous readership of the classics, instead of relying on my talent and passion alone. I would also tell my younger self to submit more work to literary journals and attend more writers retreats and book festivals as I have discovered that networking is everything.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
It was my reading of Thor Heyerdayl’s Konkiti Expedition at the age of five or six. It transported me on this adventure and created a wonderful world in my mind. This book affected me so deeply that I knew automatically that if I could use language as written in words to move someone so much, then I wanted to be a writer — a conjurer of words and a maestro of the written language.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Publishing my first book and my experience with the editor taught me to do more due diligence to grammar, punctuation and structure. I had hitherto taught it was the editor’s duty to make all the corrections, but it was a shocker to find out that they only suggest and it is you who does the change. So I learnt to do the hard work of patience and care before submission, instead of having yourself with a greater load after the first edit notes come in. An author I disliked at first but grew into appreciating and being captivated by the sheer genius and brilliance of their work is Professor Wole Soyinka.

But this last question: Are you going to pay your tithe in dollars?
I will pay my tithes into the pockets of the common man and those who suffer from Sickle Cell Anaemia.


In this article:
Jude Idada
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